Consumer spending is down, but what’s really to blame?

Charles Crumpley
Editor and Publisher of the San Fernando Valley Business Journal

A new report last week said that consumer spending was down again. It said consumers are skittish about the economy and inflation. Although I’m just one consumer, I know my spending is down. But it’s not because of the economy. I’m fed up with retail clerks.

For one thing, they’re an endangered species. You can count more condors in the sky than clerks on the floor at Macy’s. And when you do find one, it’s obvious they’re on the sales floor by mistake because they’re clearly not there to help you. The last time I asked a clerk at Home Depot to look for something in the back because it wasn’t on the sales floor, he snickered, “Sure, dude,” and sauntered off, never to be seen again.

How long would it take a manager to tell all incoming clerks they must smile at customers, ask if they can help, say “thank you”? Would it take a minute to give that little speech? Thirty seconds even? I mean, we went to the moon and everything. You’d think a little speech like that could be told to all clerks before the end of the decade.

Honestly, I’m curious. Retail managers, please tell me, why can’t you hire a few more clerks and give them that little “be helpful” speech? What am I missing here? If enough explain, I’ll include some of the responses in a future column.

Read more

Olympic-Size Opportunity

Charles Crumpley
Editor and Publisher of the San Fernando Valley Business Journal

Will Los Angeles be a beneficiary of the Olympic Games?

Even though the games, which open next week, will be in distant China, they could result in residual and real benefits for Los Angeles.

How so? Well, consider what Peter Ueberroth said last week: While Chinese officials see the games as a way to show off the country to the rest of the world, they don’t quite realize that the games will bring the world into China, exposing their population to a wave of foreign influences and attitudes. That wave will wipe away fears and prejudices, and embolden the Chinese to look overseas to study, do business or just travel.

What the Chinese officials don’t know yet is that once you open up a closed country, it’s hard to snap it shut again.

For that reason, Ueberroth said the upcoming Olympics will be the most significant international event ever.

Read more

Shoring Up America’s Oil

Charles Crumpley
Editor and Publisher of the San Fernando Valley Business Journal

Famed oilman T. Boone Pickens lately has been calling it the greatest wealth transfer ever – the $700 billion or so the United States now will send overseas each year to buy expensive oil. Much of that money is enriching regimes that want to undermine the West and kill Americans.

More people are motivated to take serious action and make sacrifices to trim our appetite for foreign oil. And California – which burns more gasoline than any other state and most other countries – is in position to make an important contribution. California should reopen offshore drilling.

I know there is a barrel of opposition to it. But most arguments against offshore drilling are old and no longer valid.

For example, those who say drilling inevitably leads to devastating oil spills apparently have missed the revolution in safety improvements. Sure, there’s risk in oil exploration and production, but in recent years the amount of oil spilled in the oceans from human activity has dropped so far it is now far less than from natural seepage. Think about this: Hurricanes routinely twist up dozens of rigs in the western Gulf of Mexico, yet you don’t hear much about oil spills there, thanks to safety improvements.

Read more

Not so Fast on Food Ban

Charles Crumpley
Editor and Publisher of the San Fernando Valley Business Journal

When I was in college, I often wolfed down a Whopper between classes or gnawed on some Kentucky Fried Chicken while studying. Sure, it wasn’t the healthiest stuff to eat. But I didn’t have the time to get enough sleep, let alone prepare nice meals for myself. I didn’t have the money to eat at finer restaurants. For me, it was Taco Bell or starve. Besides, I was too skinny anyway.

Now? I rarely touch fast food. All that cholesterol. Besides, I need to lose weight.

The point is I figured out for myself the best era in my life to eat fast food and the best era to avoid it. I didn’t need the government or anybody else to figure it out for me.

That’s why it’s troubling that Councilwoman Jan Perry has decided to inject government into the decision-making progress. As reported recently in the Business Journal, she wants to ban future development of fast-food restaurants in a 32-square-mile area of southern Los Angeles. If approved, it would be the nation’s biggest fast-food ban.

Read more

Unfortunate Run of the Month

Charles Crumpley
Editor and Publisher of the San Fernando Valley Business Journal

The more IndyMac Bancorp withered in the last couple of weeks, the angrier I got at Sen. Charles Schumer.

The New York Democrat did what a responsible person should not. He worsened IndyMac’s fragile situation by encouraging savers to pull their money out. Financially speaking, he yelled “Fire!” in a crowded theater.

How so? He wrote a couple of weeks ago that he is “concerned that IndyMac’s financial deterioration poses significant risks to both taxpayers and borrowers and that the regulatory community may not be prepared to take measures that would help prevent the collapse of IndyMac or minimize the damage should such a failure occur.”

Now, I’m not going to argue that he wrote anything inaccurate. What’s more, I’m sure his concern was genuine.

Read more